Second article of the series! As we are about to leave the country I find myself making a list of what I love in the Netherlands… You can find the first article here 🙂
The people and the culture
There are so many thing I love about the Dutch culture that it ends up being just a long list… Maybe some would say that these are perceived qualities, that, of course, not everyone is like that (or would like them) and it could even be wrong to stereotype. But I really find that Dutch people have characteristics in common, and I can only suppose that they are culturally-based. So, I personally find that Dutch people are:
- generally not cynical, when they care they really do. They like their city and their lives. They love, take pride in, and respect their country and their city;
- very practical, there is often not much sentimentalism to be found. It is especially appreciated at work… but even in our everyday life. For instance, we voted to decide whether to keep or cut the trees in our street (we kept them). Or: “Ok, that building is a ruin. Should we put it down or pay to put it back in shape? Let’s vote.” And once the vote is taken, either way, it’s done – though, now that the canals inside the Singelgracht are listed as a World Heritage site, it will become more difficult to change things in the centre;
- quite punctual;
- direct, some would say blunt 🙂 It is not always seen as a quality, but I find that I like it. You always know where you stand, people say what they think. And if you’re unsure about something, rather than making a supposition (like “I don’t think they’ll expect me to work 40 hours in the week after the birth of our son”) you can just ask…;
- gender-equal (I don’t know if the word exists): I find men and women to be equal in people’s heads. Men do what the women do, the shopping, cleaning, they cook, they take days off for the children, change nappies, carry their babies, go to the playground, etc. and they find it perfectly normal.
Also, even though it was difficult at first for me, I actually like their relation to medicine – such as “Do not take medicines if you’re not sick” (of course!), or “Do not make tests or examinations if it is not necessary” . It costs money and all examinations have possible side-effects, and so it is considered to not be worth doing such things out of principle (I know it is a hot topic!).
I would maybe go as far as to say that there is a sort of “culture of nature” where everyone is expected to take their own responsibility regarding their own health, there are still many women giving birth at home (around 24 to 30% depending on sources) without medicalised painkillers – this is possible because of the density of population, you’re never far from an hospital – and traditionally people don’t even ask for the sex of the baby during the pregnancy: you’ll know when he/she is out, the natural way…
A direct aspect of this is certainly the way pregnancies and births are dealt with. Pregnant women go to midwives (unless there are some medical indications to do otherwise). They are told that they are “pregnant, not sick” and can continue biking as long as they feel good – and they often do until the end of the pregnancy! Only one echography is obligatory, though you can do more (we did at least five, with two that we paid ourselves). No tests are done which are not considered necessary – such as monthly checks for toxoplasmosis or the sugar test for diabetes. Birth can happen at home, in hospitals, or in bevalcentrums or birth centres, sometimes without any medicalised painkillers – though these are becoming more common. A big accent and help is put on helping you to breastfeed. If you give birth outside of your home and everything is fine, you are out 4 hours later (whatever the time of day or night, I should add 😉 ). You go back home where a kraamzorg will come every day for a week to help you learn how to be a parent, in your own home, with your own things. It was great.
In general, I would say that hospitals are really good, and they’ve been great with us every time we had to go, to the emergency rooms or to the huisartsenpost.
On a different subject, because the country is relatively small, and they, historically, did not have much farm land, they have grown to be very trade orientated. I think it is how they survived, by trading with other countries, using the sea or the roads. And I believe it is the reason why people still travel a lot – Spain, Austria, France, Germany, many people travel often! – and probably one reason why they learn other languages so amazingly fast…
The nature and weather
Oh the Dutch weather! The wind, the rain and the long winters 🙂 I actually love some of that.
The proximity to the sea. It is very close to go for the day or the afternoon, and it brings wind, rain and ever-changing weather. You could think a weather that changes in one hour could be tiresome (well when it’s sunny and it suddenly rains while you’re on the bike…) but it also means that when the weather is bad, you just have to wait for a bit and it will get better again… In reaction, many websites are available to give short-term weather forecast.
Lots of wind also means not much stagnant air pollution in the city, and you have fresh air! With the rain, and the northern location, when the sun is out it is gorgeous… Gold and light, the sun reflecting on the canals, and a breeze of fresh air 😉
There are also lots of parks in the city! And with all these parks, it turns out that there are quite a lot of birds – some quite exotic, like the rose-ringed parakeet, but also ones not-so-exotic though rarely seen in France, like herons. It’s great to see one standing on top of a boat on the side of a canal or even waiting for fish on Albert Cuypmarkt!